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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  May 19, 2011 12:00pm-12:30pm EDT

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. as water levels rise, there are renewed fears for the region still recovering from hurricane katrina. first up, a look at the response to the current crisis with actor and activist harry shearer. he is out with a documentary about the role of the army corps of engineers, "the big uneasy." also, suze orman is here with a
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book called "the money class." >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, nationwide insurance is happy to help tavis improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] pippe
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tavis: we are pleased to have harry shearer back on the program. the actor, host, and activist is out with a documentary about the government's role with hurricane katrina called "the big gynoecium -- the big uneasy." >> at new orleans only express about category one conditions. >> this is contrary to the army corps of engineers which was -- >> one in 400 ability of occurrence. >> they said that -- >> that was a big storm. >> they're doing that to cover their behind. >> you cannot out engineer mother nature. >> this was a big storm. this was a storm that was until then unimaginable.
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>> they seemed to know what they were talking about so everyone started picking on fema instead. tavis: you have to love that south african accent. for those that don't know, what is the harry shearer connection to new orleans? >> i lived there. i was brought up in southern california but i fell in love with the place and fortunately, so did my wife, so we have a place there and we try to spend as much time as possible. tavis: you started doing that since when? >> i went down there in 1988 for jazz fest. what was imus in all my life? i never saw professor longhair life. -- what was i missing all my life? tavis: what is the point of this documentary? so much has been said, done,
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written about new orleans. what is the point of this particular documentary? >> a hurricane did hurricane damage to the gulf coast but what almost killed new orleans was not a hurricane. when it passed by new orleans, this was on a category one or a weak category two, it was a catastrophic failure of the hurricane system. it took them four and a half decades to almost complete the project and it failed in more than 50 places under storm surge conditions that were less severe than was supposed to withstand. it was a catastrophic situation. people talk about the government and all of that. unless you have read these reports by the investigations,
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you don't know why those people suffered, why those people drowned. >> i heard you say that it took four and a half decades to almost complete. >> it was not completed. >> i have heard of government bureaucracy, how does any entity work on a project for four and a half decades and it still not completed? >> in its original budget a timeframe for construction, completion was about 8 years. the short answer to what the core of the engineers does and the way that they do it is that they live in a good tune of community. -- a cocoon of immunity. they're not responsible for the work they do. congress gave the court a blanket immunity for any flood control project they do. -- they gave the army corps of the engineers a blanket immunity. you cannot sue them if they fled
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house through confidence or malice. the only one that came to trial and called the mississippi river gulf outlet on the east side of town which was a canal driven through the wetlands of st. bernard parish, killing the wetlands and fled in the lower ninth ward, east new orleans, and -- parrish. the only reason that that came to trial was because it was a navigation project. the rest of new orleans was a flood control project and those people never get their day in court. the judge called this case criminal negligence. tavis: you keep saying things i want to dig into. why did congress give them this kind of blanket immunity? if you are assigned a task, we expected to be done right, especially if it is done with the american people's money. the american people pay you to do the work but you are not held liable for the work.
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>> your not held responsible or accountable. i think that congress thought it would free the core up from concern about nuisance suits or something or any sense of accountability. they are answerable to no one. they serve the congress. the project that they do are not policy-driven. that is the only agency of government which is totally funded by earmarks. their strategy has been to have a project in every congressional district thereby getting the loyalty of every congressman. now, the modern corps contract out most of their work to project contractors to give money to congress people to get elected. >> are they held accountable, these private contractors? >> and a very odd way. we have an example an hour film, one of the contractors working on the new orleans project in the '90's came to the court and said that our contract
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requires us to dig foundation under this flood wall that is not sufficiently deep. we're not hitting solid ground. we need to dig deeper. they said, you follow the terms of your contract and the contractors said, we don't want to do that. they took the contractor to court and they force them to not go any farther than 17 feet deep off. the contractor was court ordered to do so. that was one of the orders that failed. today, they are digging 64 feet deep. >> it is obvious from talking to you that it takes a beating in this documentary. what does the corps have to say about that? what is their response? >> i have worked very hard to get the corps people into their
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film. for people to see how they would react. their basic stance is that we don't look backwards, we look forward. they had one moment when the commander of the corps stood up and said, for the first time in history, one of our projects catastrophically failed. within two months, he was retired. in two months, he was gone. that is the last time they have looked backward. i would bet you on june 1st when the new $15 billion project to replace the one that failed is ceremonially opened, they will say this, new orleans had never been safer. that is like saying, after a fight your grandma, your grandfather has never been safer. that is not very reassuring.
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they have not really answered. these are findings by two teams of investigators from major universities, consortiums of leading investigators and experts in hydrology and geology and watersides and coastal science. those have been on the public record for three or four years and have never responded to those. tavis: pardon the phrase but given the drill down on this matter, do you have reason to believe, are you convinced that when this new system is released later this summer, that it is ready to withstand what might come? >> here is what i will tell you. i have no opinion worth talking about, i am a guy from the comedy world. i concentrated on going to the people who know what they are talking about. there is a whistle blower in the film and her job was to test and install the pumps, the hydraulic pumps that are at the heart of the new system. she said, they never passed
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their test. even when the standards were reduced over and over again. they were installed anyway and she has said repeatedly that they will not work in a hurricane situation and her allegations were investigated by an independent engineer working for another branch of the government is said that she is right. a letter to that effect has been on the desk of the appropriate congress committee and the president of the united states since june of 2009. tavis: it is understand how this process works but i don't get how members of congress, the white house, all of these authoritative and responsible people could have this kind of intelligence and no one has said or done anything about it and they will all go down to new orleans for the ceremony. i don't get it.
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what do you make of that? >> look, i would not have made this film if president obama had come to new orleans in october of 2009, three and a half years all of the reports were on public record. a year and a half -- sorry, six months after the letter was on his desk from the whistle blower and called the flooding of new orleans a natural disaster. that made me take this action of making the film. i cannot tell you why people are ignoring this. i can look to the situation in japan where people were warned that these nuclear plants are not safe. the cooling systems failed even before the earthquake and tsunami parent of the japanese government was so in bed with the nuclear industry that they ignored the warnings. -- to: systems failed even before the earthquake and tsunami. the japanese government was in bed with the nuclear industry.
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sacramento, california is in the bull's-eye of a similar situation possibly. the army corps says very dire things. dallas, texas, they said that the levees along the trinity river will built on sand. many cities that are supported by the levees are informed of their not what they thought there would be. tavis: there is nothing that rankles politicians like getting bad press. what is happening in the state of louisiana, specifically in new orleans going out to the press that might not have been generated by the revelations? >> the press covered this. most of this, the two major investigations looking backward at the flooding at the time. that is where we all learned about it. people were plenty rankled. the congress gave jurisdiction over the hurricane protection system of new orleans to the army corps of engineers. the locals can scream and year
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-- and yelled but the new orleans delegation is not have uphold what it once did. they don't have the clout to get up on their hind legs and make a noise like they're trying to do. and the film, we have a wonderful sequence where david fitter does a wonderful job of making it clear how unhappy people are in new orleans with their behavior. the guy in the uniformed sits there and takes it and then they go back about their business. tavis: i come back to how it is that there is evidence on the table that has been independently investigated and it says that the comps never passed the inspection. -- pumps never pass inspection. we reduced the standards and they still did not pass. people are oblivious to this. >> there more than a bolivias.
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the people we investigated are the only three people who have been punished. -- they are more than a oblivious. no one has lost as much as a parking space. but these three people, one has lost his job. the whistle-blower has had four years of shunning and held. the other was a blower has been told by colleagues that he is an enemy of the united states. this is what is lebanon. the people who stood up and told the truth. -- that is what is going on. the people in this film have showed enormous courage and have been punished for it and the people that almost killed a major american city got rewarded for it. tavis: the project is called "the big uneasy," by our friend harry shearer. >> thank you for having me. tavis: please welcome suze
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orman to this program. she is a perennial "new york times," best selling author. her latest texas called ""the money class, learn to create your new american dream." good to have you on this program. >> thank you, tavis. tavis: why is there a need for us to create a new american dream? what happened to the old one? >> we destroyed it. we were dreaming and such a way and i am not sure it is such a bad thing that we destroyed it but the dream started to be this -- i need two, three homes. four, five cars. i need this, i need that. people started dreaming about needing more and more and things like that. where we stand today is that one out of four people are under water in their home. millions of people have actually lost their home.
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people not be able to retire when they thought they could retire. people cannot send their kids to school anymore. we need to learn to create a new american dream, one that is safe and with honesty, integrity. one that allows us to sleep tonight so we don't have to worry about things. we go back to class to learn about money all over again because we voluntarily in the united states of america in my opinion destroyed our economic system simply because of greed. >> have the lessons changed or have we changed and forgotten those lessons? everdon't think that we knew the lessons that we recently just learned. obviously, those of us that were old enough and you went through the depression, you went there everyone losing everything, you always stayed within your means there. people were very very ethical back then and then kind of kept that with them.
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as people were born and they never experienced that, they never learned the lesson of what was really like to lose their home, lose their car, their job, retirement account. they did not experience it until recently. here is what i'm afraid of, i think in a very short period of time, this only happened in 2008, i think they have 40 started to forget what they learned. tavis: when you said agreed a moment ago, the underlying reason why so much of this is happened, i was wondering if you're talking about greed on the part of the american people, wall street, or both. what is driving that agreed in both entities, wall street, and the everyday americans? -- what is driving that greed? >> this started with wall street. with real estate. with the mortgage brokers. started with how can we make more money and leverage,
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leverage, leverage. when we extended to the ability for people who said not have been buying homes, we gave them the ability to do so because they were able to buy a home with no money down. they were able to buy a home even though they did not have a job. they could look at a home and the finance people would give it to them. i think it was the institutions that allowed every day americans to do things that they never thought they were going to be able to do that then got everyday americans a little bit greedy because then they wanted more and more. who would not want more and more money? that is a ridiculous thing. of course we want more money. altogether, it came tumbling down. it started with the corporations, with the fcc not over seen things with the real- estate companies, with bankers. that is where it started, chavis -- tavis.
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tavis: hasn't there always a beengreed -- hasn't always been greed in the past? >> in the past, i would have called it ambition to want to make more money. there is nothing wrong with wanting to make more money as long as you do it honestly and ethically. as long as you care about the moves that you make don't hurt anyone. hopefully they enhance people buy you making more money as well so you can do something that they need, want, so everyone is ok. this greed was let's sell things, let's repackage them. you had derivatives, all of these things going simply to make more and more money without caring about the ramifications of what was the underlying vehicle of the way to make that money.
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tavis: wall street is making more money than ever before. also the story that ceo pay is backed up at its highest now than ever. what do you make of those two realities? everyone is making more money except everyone -- everyday american people. >> there is a highly -- there is a highway into poverty. once you get into poverty, you tend to sit there because there is no way to get out. this is a travesty. this is an absolute travesty that the bankers and everything has gone back to the way it used to be and everyone is making millions of dollars and still some many people are losing their homes because no one will help them keep their home that they put money down on and they should be able to keep. no one is caring really about the american public, especially those that are doing very well.
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the chairman of the fdic, she just stepped down. i want to say that will cause trouble in that this woman was brilliant. this woman is brilliant. this woman in my opinion really cares about people. now, she has stepped down. i cannot wait to see who comes in. if someone comes in and they don't care, i don't know, here we go all over again. tavis: there are a number of classes in the tax. let me show you -- let me throw some that you. this is what we will learn through this new book. what will we learn about family in the text? >> it is ok to say to your family, we cannot afford it. it is ok to say, i know you want to go to college, i know you want me to cosign a student loan, but i cannot do it.
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you have to learn how to speak your kids about allowance and what they get and should you give them an allowance. in this chapter here, we have learned about how to come back together as a family and what a family can and cannot do financially speaking so we can cover everything including students and the class. -- student loans in that class. tavis: there is a class on retirement living and retirement planning. >> there are three classes on retirement. this is the most complete retirement primer you will find anywhere, especially one that i've ever written. if you are in your 20's and 30's, it will tell you exactly what to do. if you are in your 40's and 50's, it will tell you what to do. if you are in your 60's, do have to read this class. interest rates are at 1%. you have cut your income as your
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cds are maturing. what can you do to increase your income in order just to stay and retirement? >tavis: where is the evidence that you see that the world that we live and given that the trauma we have entered becomes less greedy? i don't see it as yet. >> i don't think it will become less greedy. my hope was to teach people to live below their means but within them needs. to prepare them for what is carried shortly. i think you are about to see a double dip in terms of real estate and what will happen with real estate. so, if they are continuing to get greedy, if they will stay that way, i think that you will see that it will hit those that are not educated about what to do right in their face and it
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will backfire on those who are not greedy. i don't know if we will change but i am hoping that americans will learn what to do with their money today to protect themselves tomorrow because i don't think it will be a nice scenario. >> i love suze orman because she is smart and sassy and she is very sensible. her name of course, suze orman. her book "the money class, learn to create your new american dream." good to have you on. thank you for your insights. >> thanks. see you soon. tavis: good night from los angeles. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis
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smiley online. tavis: join me next time for a conversation with bobby brown. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] [captioning made possible by kcet public television]
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